“He made the pillars thereof of silver, the bottom thereof of gold, the covering of it of purple, the midst thereof being paved with love . . .”
SONG OF SOLOMON.
Accustomed to the flowing robes of the Arab, it is not as difficult as it might be imagined to break a desert-trained horse to side-saddle; but the mare, Pi-Kay, spoilt and sensitive, behaved like a very demon whilst the sayis exchanged the ma’araka, which is the native pad without stirrups, for the lady’s saddle. She was not really bad, not she! She was simply a spoilt beauty and inclined to show off, so that every time her big, beautiful eye caught the sheen of the girl’s satin cloak, she backed and reared and plunged, but more out of mischief than wickedness. For many days she had been ridden alternately astride and side by the sayis, who loved her better than his wife and almost as much as his son; ridden from the Tents of Purple and Gold—and not over-willingly did she go—to the Gate of To-morrow at sunset, to be taken back at a tearing gallop to the Tents, without restraining or guiding hand upon the reins, at sunrise.
It was not sunrise now, and she did not like the person in the shimmering satin who had, in some miraculous way, swung to her back and stayed there; but she was headed in the direction of home, and the moonlight was having just as much effect upon her temperament as it has on that of humans.
A moon-struck horse or a moon-struck camel in the desert is a weird picture and it were wise, as they are for the moment absolutely fey, to give them an extremely wide passage.
“Guide her not, lady,” shouted the sayis to Damaris, who answered to the movement of the mare like a reed in the wind, but otherwise seemed to take no notice of horse, or man, or moon, or untoward circumstance; he hung on for a moment to the silken mane and stared up into the girl’s unseeing eyes; then, with a ringing shout, let go and jumped nimbly to one side.
There was no backing, no rearing, or vagary of any sort now; the mare started on her journey; broke into a canter; broke into a gallop; then, silken mane and tail flying, thundered back at a terrific speed along the path marked out by her own dainty hoofs, and the relentless feet of that hound, Fate.
Damaris turned in the saddle and looked behind, and then to her right and then to her left.
She was alone in the desert.
The sands, stretched like a silver carpet in front of her and like a silver carpet with the black ribbon woven across it by the mare’s feet behind; to the east and west the sandy waste seemed to undulate in great fawn and amethyst and grey-blue waves, so tremendous was the beast’s pace; the horizon looked as though draped in curtains gossamer-light and opalescent; the heavens stretched, silvery and cold, as merciless as a woman who has ceased to love.